Research has shown that people who are suffering from mental health conditions have higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse. When two mental health conditions are present in a person at the same time, or co-occurring, they are known as a dual-diagnosis patient.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health of 2015:

  • Around 8.1 million adults suffer from both mental illness and substance abuse disorder (SUD), with 2.3 million presenting severe symptoms
  • Among the 8.1 million adults with dual-diagnosis, 48% received specialist treatment at a dual diagnosis treatment facility or mental health care in the past year
  • Among the 2.3 million people presenting more serious symptoms, around 63% received either substance use treatment at a dual diagnosis treatment center or mental health care in the past year
  • Nearly 21% of Americans with mental illness had abused illegal drugs in the past year, compared with around 12% of adults without mental health issues
  • In the past year, more than 13% of adults with mental illness abused psychotherapeutic drugs, compared with 6.5% of those without
  • More than 10% of mentally ill Americans had abused alcohol in the past 6 months, compared with 6% of healthy adults

The stats confirm time and time again that the relationship between mental illness and addiction is intimately interconnected.

What Exists First: Mental Illness or Addiction?

An important part of dual diagnosis treatment is evaluation and assessment and this is primarily to establish whether mental illness was present before addictive behavior began or vice versa. Examples of each scenario include:

  • An individual has used substances or alcohol to self-medicate the distressing symptoms of a mental health condition, or
  • A person has developed the symptoms of mental illness as a consequence of prolonged substance abuse.

How Dual Diagnosis Is Treated

Every individual entering a dual diagnosis treatment facility has their own story as to how they became addicted to drugs or alcohol. Regardless of whether mental illness pre-existed addiction or the other way around, it is crucial that both conditions are treated separately and simultaneously. Patients at dual diagnosis treatment centers have more complex needs than those struggling with addiction on its own and they are best addressed in a specialist facility where treatment can be personalized according to individual patient needs.

There are a number of traditional and complementary therapies that are particularly beneficial for dual-diagnosis patients including:

Up until the mid-1980s, it was widely considered possible to treat mental illness and substance abuse through a single, integrated program.

This often led to dual diagnosis cases being referred to rehab facilities as a matter of course, in order to focus on treating addiction as a priority over any co-occurring mental illness.

Subsequently, it has been established that both mental illness and substance abuse are separate conditions that can conspire to perpetuate abusive behavior unless both are treated at the same time. This recognizes and acknowledges the complex interplay that exists between mental illness and addiction that serves to keep people trapped in negative cycles.

A Brighter Future for Dual Diagnosis Patients

As our understanding of the correlation between mental illness and substance abuse has improved, so have treatment approaches. It is now widely recognized that people suffering from both conditions are a particularly vulnerable group, requiring specialist treatment for maximum effectiveness in the long term. The stats show that more people are seeking – and getting – the specialist dual-diagnosis rehab they need than ever before, and more importantly going on to live healthy and fulfilling lives in recovery.